New data released by the European Space Agency reveals that Earth’s magnetic poles are weakening much faster than was previously thought. The data was collected by the ESA’s Swarm satellites, a set of three orbital satellites designed to track the strength, direction and variations of the Earth's geomagnetic field.
This recent set of measurements reveals that our geomagnetic field is weakening by around 5% a year, which is nearly ten times faster than previous estimates. According to the a press release by the ESA, the data shows that the field is weakening faster in some places than others:
It shows clearly that the field has weakened by about 3.5% at high latitudes over North America, while it has strengthened about 2% over Asia. The region where the field is at its weakest – the South Atlantic Anomaly – has moved steadily westward and weakened further by about 2%.
This new data might foreshadow a coming reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles, an event thought to occur around every 100,00 years, with the last reversal happening during the human Stone Age. While some Doomsday sayers believe that this magnetic reversal could mark the end of life on Earth, the consensus among geoscientists is that the worst effect could be the re-labeling all of Earth’s compasses.
Chris Finlay, one of the researchers with the ESA, says that this new data is groundbreaking in terms of how much it reveals about Earth’s magnetic field:
Swarm data are now enabling us to map detailed changes in Earth's magnetic field, not just at Earth's surface but also down at the edge of its source region in the core. Unexpectedly, we are finding rapid localized field changes that seem to be a result of accelerations of liquid metal flowing within the core.
The full effects of the Earth’s magnetic field are still largely unknown, although we do know that the field helps shield the Earth from the effects of solar and cosmic radiation. It is believed that the Earth’s spinning core of molten metals might produce the magnetic field, but the exact mechanism by which the field is generated is still under study.